June 22, 2006 GMT
Outback

It’s official! We made it to the Outback. It’s a little vague where the Outback actually begins, so we asked the question when stopping off for fuel and a sandwich at Tilly’s Servo in Alpha, a small village along the Capricorn Highway; so named as it lies along the Tropic of Capricorn. According to Tilly, if you’re from the city, the Outback begins when you leave the suburbs. However for those living further afield it’s a few more hours inland. Great stuff, but where exactly?

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All was revealed when we entered Aramac Shire, en route from Longreach to Muttaburra, whereby a prominent sign announced “G’day Welcome to Aramac Shire The Real Outback, Where the West Began”. So there you go, now we know.

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Upon arrival in Muttaburra (population 200), we came to learn this small town had several other attributes despite its small size. It’s the centre of Queensland for one and also the site where in 1963, a local stockman came across unique dinosaur remains, later to be excavated and pronounced “Muttaburrasaurus Longdoni”.

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However for us, Muttaburra wasn’t about where the west began, its geographical location or the local dinosaur, it was about the people and our time spent there. Camping at the town’s rest area for free met with our approval, especially given the fact that the water supply was continuously hot as it’s fed from an underground hot spring! Another appealing fact was that it was within the vicinity of the local pub, and with the Wallabies playing England live on the telly, it was another chance for me to humiliate Emma!

To cut a long story short, by the next morning Australia had beaten England, the XXXX beer beat my head and we ended up riding out to an outback station belonging to some bloke we’d met the previous night via directions scribbled on the back of a beer mat.

Upon arrival at Bill’s 28,000 acre station, my sketchy welding skills were put to the test assisting Trevor fabricating steel gates, whilst Emma assisted Bill unloading cattle from two recently arrived Road Trains. A couple of hours later I was rudely disturbed by a loud air horn blast. I looked up to find Em driving one of the mammoth Road Trains round the farm!

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Not content to stop there, Em later hopped aboard the farm quad bike and helped to muster the newly arrived cattle out to pastures new.

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Over the next day or two, I helped out Bill and Trevor to muster sheep, mark lambs, hunt wild pigs (another introduced menace) and drink their XXXX supplies, generally having the time of my life. Riding an XR250 dirt bike over endless plains, in UK summer temperatures, with kangaroos hopping off into the distance and artisan well windmills pumping away on the horizon, I had to pinch myself this was real.

Meanwhile Em took a trip to the local shops for supplies with Peta, Bill’s wife– some 120kms away and was introduced to some of the local amenities, surprisingly sufficient for such a small community. Both Em and I have been blown away by the Australian hospitality, in particular Bill and Pete’s who took us into their home and gave us an insight into life on an outback station. However, more than that was the warmth and friendship experienced.

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It wasn’t easy to leave, however the show must go on, so it was back on the bike and North on yet more gravel roads

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to Porcupine Gorge, a National Park some 70kms North of Hughenden. We arrived not long before sun down, time to pitch the tent, get dinner on and catch an early night.

The next morning we were rudely woken to the sound of highly strung strimmers buzzing away. I poked my head out of the tent to find a hive of activity taking place; tables being erected, temporary awnings going up, even a helicopter came into land! I went to investigate and established there was an 8km-running race taking place that morning up the gorge. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Em and I signed up to participate. Before we knew it we were standing on the starting line down at the bottom of the gorge not knowing quite what we were letting ourselves in for. About an hour or so later we a little wiser and a lot more exhausted. Nonetheless we had a good time and another chance to meet the locals, some of whom had travelled some 5 hours from Townsville to compete.

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After relaxing for the remainder of the day, we set off the following morning via Lynd Junction, whose claim to fame is Australia's smallest pub. Em quaffed a VB - no such luck for me, a Ginger Beer had to do.

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Next stop was Undara National Park, home to the lava tubes, created some 190,000 years ago when lava flowed from a nearby volcano. The tubes themselves must be 10 – 15mts in diameter, and quite a sight to see, despite the damage to the wallet created by the fact you can only visit by taking a tour with the monopolistic tour operator. ‘Nuff said.

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The campsite was good however, with our own private campfire and various marsupials paying us a visit throughout both day and night.

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We therefore decided to stay an extra day and sort out some of the surplus luggage we’ve been lugging around. Heated discussions were inevitable as to what was deemed essential and non-essential, (like the size of Em’s wash-bag for example), however we made some progress and are on the way to lightening the load a little.

Entering the Atherton Tableland region yesterday after the Outback was quite a change to what we’ve been used to – it was raining for one. Not only that, but the scenery was much more akin to that of the UK; rolling green farmland but with masses of wild busy lizzies providing a wealth of colour by the roadside. We decided we’d give camping a miss for the night and treat ourselves to a traditional Queensland Hotel. The 95-year-old Malanda Hotel, the largest wooden hotel in Queensland, fitted the bill. Despite looking like it hadn’t had a refit since 1911, it all added to the character. And at 45 bucks night, who’s to complain?

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Today it's off to Cairns to pick up some parts and give the bike a bit of a service. The dirt roads have taken their toll on both fork seals and paralever bearings, therefore they'll be replaced along with the usual 10K km service tomorrow. All in time for the next leg of our journey, North of Cairns and then along the Savannah Way to Darwin.

(Hamish)

Posted by Emma Myatt at June 22, 2006 03:28 AM GMT
 
 

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